The Stealer

Who’s gonna have a hit with this song?

I was combing the blogs for bootlegs and I found this album by Bettye LaVette, a compilation of cuts from decades ago, most unreleased, and there in the track listing was "The Stealer".

One of the most famous tracks in rock and roll was never a hit single.  I’m speaking of Big Star’s "Thirteen".  There’s a wistfulness, an encapsulation of what it means to be an isolated rock fan, the music being the most important thing to you, being misunderstood but finding one other person who gets it.

All the musicians know it.  Listen to Wilco’s cover.  It’s faithful, as they all are, because you can’t improve on Big Star’s rendition of "Thirteen", you can only honor and respect it.

Kind of like Free’s "The Stealer".  Covers have been done by everybody from Bob Seger to Leslie West and one thing they do not change is the riff, the groove, and Bettye LaVette doesn’t either.  Even though horns take the place of guitars.

Speaking of unsung heroes, it’s Paul Kossoff who created the riff.  The same guy who constructed one of the most famous riffs of all time, "All Right Now".  Just think if he hadn’t O.D.’ed on that airplane, what other delectable nuggets he might have concocted.

Now most musicians are not concerned with the hit.  That’s the company’s fascination, that’s what the media gloms on to. Musicians are infatuated with songs and sounds.  They know all about infection.  Sound pouring out of the speakers into your arm like a drug injection.  The high is instant and stratospheric.  They mess with their instruments trying to figure out how it was done, they play around with their influences and do their best to create something just as infectious.

Don’t confuse those people on the hit parade with the players.

But the players’ time is coming back.

Because you remove the money and the fame and that’s all that’s left.

In other words, the time for the gunslinger has returned.  But it’s not solely about technique, it’s about feel, it’s about soul.

And speaking of soul, that’s what Bettye LaVette evidences on this cut.  She’s living proof that if you’re good and don’t give up and wait long enough, the public catches up with you.

If you’re a member of the club, you’re nodding your head.

If not, get ready to be indoctrinated.

"The Stealer"


P.S. This is how all those classic rock legends became such.  They were infected by these records, picked up instruments and figured out how to make these sounds.  These sounds are the bedrock of our musical culture.  They feel as good as orgasm but last much longer, you can’t burn out on ’em.

P.P.S. That Buddy Holly covers album getting all the hype is a throwaway.  The originals supersede the covers and the only people interested are those who are familiar with the originals.  Better to have an album of covers of buried treasures like "The Stealer" and "Thirteen", giving them wider exposure to a public that is mostly out of the loop.

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